Levi Wallace had a heck of a year. As an undrafted free agent, the rookie landed with the Buffalo Bills where he fell to the practice squad with a cornerback group having decent depth to start the year. In Week two, Vontae Davis retired at halftime which eventually led to Phillip Gaines taking over opposite Tre’Davious White. Phillip Gaines had a bit of an issue with defensive pass interference (among other concerns) and was cut after a particularly bad outing against Da Bears. With a suddenly depleted defensive back roster, Wallace got the call to the active squad and never looked back. Let’s see how he did.
This is Levi Wallace’s first drive of his first regular season NFL action. It’s pretty impressive that he diagnoses the play, directs one of the budding stars in Matt Milano, and then attacks the perfect receiver for the play call. Not every pre-snap routine is top notch like this one, but Wallace is constantly communicating. For his part of the play itself, he drives as soon as he sees Quincy Enunwa turn his head. The pass is deflected, but even had it been caught this play is dead in the water thanks to Wallace.
That isn’t to say he won’t make some mistakes. Wallace is so fixated on his man that he essentially tackles Matt Milano. As a result, some options open up for the Jets, though luckily they didn’t capitalize.
Wallace’s aggressive nature can be a problem as well. Here that combines with good ol’ fashioned inexperience. Not realizing the receiver is coming in to block, Levi Wallace bites inside. By the time Wallace realizes what’s up the play is lost.
More rookie eagerness and inexperience prevents a splash play in this clip. Wallace skirts the edge quite well and is in position to make a tackle five or six yards behind the line of scrimmage. He takes a bad angle to the inside and the running back gets outside of Wallace. The run still goes down as a loss, but this is a play Levi Wallace likely wanted a do-over on.
Let’s take a look at pass coverage. Wallace wasn’t tested as much as you might expect as an undrafted rookie. He often held up well, with solid instincts and change of direction ability to stay with his man. Wallace is in good position here thanks to good anticipation on the route.
And here’s a big reason why Wallace held up well in the final stretch of games. The ability to flip his hips leads to an easier time changing direction while maintaining speed.
To start with the bad, Wallace nearly always turns sideways immediately at the snap rather than backpedal. Sometimes Wallace even telegraphs this pre-snap. This is something that can be taken advantage of by shiftier receivers. To close with the good, Levi Wallace is like glue on this route, even navigating the hesitation move beautifully.
Levi Wallace is a pleasant surprise, becoming the rare case where the depth players work out better than the planned starter. Wallace shows good awareness that unfortunately isn’t always matched by his experience and ability. There are a few things a clever team could exploit in Wallace’s game but several other aspects that make it hard to play against him. Wallace has already outplayed expectations, but look for him to make a bigger impression in year two.